Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday January 21 2007
Usually I prefer to draft my match reports the day after the game. A chance to take in the highlights and let any overzealous anger or subjective delight dissipate and allow objectivity to resonate. (In all honesty, I'm usually too knackered as well). But there are moments that football gives you that you want to squeeze and strangle the life out of them before they drift into memory. This is one such occasion where I feel that only by immortalising this feeling in print can I do this match justice.
My untroubled view from my season ticket seat
Before the game I had the unrivalled plesure of meeting Mr. Mustchin and Fat Old Dave (who isn't just blowing smoke with that log in name by the way. Only joking Dave, well, kind of) in the Herbert Chapman pub on Holloway Road. I cannot tell you how surreal it is to meet someone you speak to more than your own mother for the first time, having never clapped eyes on them. Anyways, the world was put to rights over a jar of Ireland's finest before heading to the game. The opening ten minutes belonged entirely to United in terms of possession. One could almost hear Ferguson's pre match teamtalk still ringing in their ears, Chelsea's demise twenty four hours previous giving them the early impetus. But Arsenal did not embelish their nerves for long and began to grow into the game. The first half was a cagey affair of few chances, punctuated by two world class Lehmann saves. The first from a brilliant dipping volley from Rooney, the second flinging himself to deny Larssons's header. It would prove to be pivotal.
The teams line up pre kick off
My feeling at half time was that this would be a game that would not open up. A point would not have been a bad result for United and I felt it would be a case of being clinical when a rare chance did come along. In short, I felt it was a first goal wins affair. So when Patrice Evra's brilliant run and cross was met with a firm Wayne Rooney header on the backpost, I could not see us getting back into the game. We appeared to go route one at that point, and I just could not see where an equaliser would come from. van Persie replaced the impressive Hleb, but took to the left wing. I complained that this was a bad decision, van Persie on the right cutting in on his left, Rosicky on the left cutting on his the right peg would reap richer rewards. How wrong I was!!! Arsenal created a golden chance as Adebayor met Eboue's cross with a soft header, but stretched an elastic limb and an almighty scramble ensued. The ball ricocheted every which way but goalwards and it looked as though the chance was gone.
The United end looking suitably threadbare seconds after the final whistle
But a miracle arose, like a great phoenix from the flames. A low cross from the right arrived at Henry with his back to goal. He attempted a flick I like to call 'the Kanu' which failed miserably or worked a treat depending on how you look at it. I half looked away, not seeing van Persie arrive on the back post to smash home from a tight angle. Ashburton Grove erupted in a bevy of noise and it looked as though the three points could be on. United settled in, happy with the point. In retrospect, Chelsea's defeat a day earlier really helped us here, United were content with the draw, thinking seven points to be an ample skism between themselves and the Lotto Chavs. Arsenal continued to press, as Fabregas played a neat one two with Eboue. Eboue's cross (an area of his game which was ripe for mockery months ago) was pinpoint and Henry planted a firm header past van der Sar. From where I was it looked a routine save for van der Sar, but I did not concern myself with that, electing instead to cavort senselessly, like a wasp at a picnic. By and large Henry had a quiet game, lacking sharpness in certain areas, but he made the difference when it counted. I'll let you in on a secret, in the San Siro three years ago, Henry's performance was terrible, in the Bernebeu he was virtually invisible for 89 and a half minutes, today he was average at best. But even in his quietest game, he has the quality to make the difference, that is an indication of his class.
Toby and Daryll in buoyant mood post match
The final whistle sounded and Cesc Fabregas leapt up and down like a lunatic down below me, as the Ashburton Grove crowd reciprocated. Fabregas grew into the game and I felt narrowly outstripped Carrick and Scholes, no mean feat. Overall, a draw would probably have been a fair reflection of the game. Neither side posed a sustained enough threat to win the match, neither side were bad enough to warrant losing it. Anyone who persists with doubting the potential of this team can look at how many times in the last fiteen years United have lead a game with seven minutes left and lost it. That requires a certain level of character that ordinary teams do not possess. We might have had an early penalty, Henry going down in the area. It looked to me that he knew what he was doing, but I would not call it an out and out dive, there is no rule saying the striker has to evade stray limbs. But I would have to see it again. I thought Clichy had an outstanding game, nullifying the threat of Rooney and Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo is a player I do not understand. When he takes the ball and runs full pelt at a defender, there are few more dangerous players in the world. But the constant use of impotent flicks and tricks does not impress me and I feel hinders his game. Watch him and you will see the stepovers and the flicks never beat players, it is his pace. Countless times Eboue and Clichy dispossessed him while he attempted a triple pike. Simplicity is genius, just have a look at Bergkamp, Pires, Scholes etc for relevant examples. Our defenders did a good job on Larsson while Rooney on the left did not appear to work.
A final amusing observation was van der Sar sprinting forty yards to the referee following Henry's winner to complain about our time wasting! His time eating at 0-1 was so blatant that I think the clock on my phone audibly yawned. Justice rarely comes more poetic when you consider that van der Sar and Evra's time wasting ultimately cost United sufficient time to mount an attack. This was a game that will live long in the memory, recollections of Platt's header, Barthez's blunders, Vieira's penalty were all bought to the fore. Monday morning? Bring it on! LD.
Date:Sunday January 21 2007
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